Strengthening residential treatment: from position paper to standardized assessment tool

Kinark has taken a leadership role with government and its sector partners to strengthen residential treatment for children and youth with mental health issues since 2015 when it released a position paper, “Strengthening Children’s Mental Health Residential Treatment through Evidence and Experience”. The paper is based on an extensive literature review and Kinark’s own experience as a residential treatment provider. In it, we identified nine critical success factors that characterize and define a successful residential treatment system, and recommended that a tiered system of residential treatment be developed as well as alternatives to residential treatment.

“The paper was a call to action to improve residential treatment services for children and youth,” explains Project Lead, Larry Shaw.

This past year, Kinark developed a new Scoring Tool for Assessing Residential Treatment (START) based on the nine critical success factors. By creating a consistent and comprehensive way in which to assess residential treatment services, START offers an innovative and practical approach to improving the quality of treatment services for children, youth and families across the province.

START was developed by Kinark’s Research and Evaluation Department in partnership with the agency’s Child and Youth Mental Health Program leadership, and residential and clinical staff.

“START has been refined through extensive reliability and validity testing,” says Research and Evaluation Advisor, Dr. Claire Baxter. “It has also been vetted through consultations with key experts who have both operational and clinical experience in residential treatment, and will soon be reviewed by youth and families,” explains Dr. Baxter.

By grounding this tool in evidence, and vetting it through people with practical experience in residential treatment, including children and families, the tool promises to be an important mechanism that providers can use to ensure consistent quality in their residential treatment programs.

Last August, Kinark began using START to assess its own residential treatment programs. The assessment team, which was comprised of clinical, operational and research staff, used the new tool to conduct assessments in four Kinark residences.

External assessments

In 2017, with a grant from the Ontario Centre of Excellence for Child and Youth Mental Health, Kinark supported its core service provider partners who also provide residential treatment services, including Blue Hills Child and Family Centre, Chimo Youth and Family Services and Frontenac Youth Services, to administer START assessments of their own. Together, these assessments will enable us to establish a level of consistent, quality residential treatment across Kinark’s lead agency services areas while gathering more data with which to validate START.

“We’ve received excellent feedback from our partners, who feel, as we do, that START could positively impact residential treatment services for children, youth and families throughout Ontario,” says Shaw.